Sunday, January 13, 2008

Contention between LDS Missionaries and Members

Missionaries must become united with members in the wards in which they serve. Without member missionary involvement the work in a particular ward may not be as productive as if they are involved. Elder M. Russell Ballard taught us as missionaries in the Toronto Canada Mission that members are the key to missionaries success. Members can increase baptisms exponentially if they trust the missionaries with their friends and relatives. Unfortunately missionaries do not always have a good relationship with the members in areas in which they are serving. Missionaries need to remember to "work smarter not harder" a phrase Elder Ballard continually drummed in to our heads when working with members. A smart missionary knows teaching results in more baptisms than knocking doors. Good missionaries get along with members and develop lasting relationships. Missionaries must respect the members and be open to their involvement in the teaching process.

M. Russell Ballard stressed that members are the key to successful growth: "But as we raise the level of expectation for the performance of our missionaries, we must also raise the level of expectation for the performance of all of the members of the Church in fulfilling our missionary duties. We need your help, brothers and sisters, to support and assist our missionaries in finding and baptizing many more of our Heavenly Father’s children. We need you to watch over, protect, and inspire the missionaries, who are servants of the Lord. If the standard is to be raised, it is raised for all of us. We must be more faithful. We must be more spiritually in tune. We must prepare ourselves to assist the missionaries in finding those of our Heavenly Father’s children who will embrace the message of the Restoration.

Remember, brothers and sisters, we’re not marketing a product. We’re not selling anything. We’re not trying to impress anyone with our numbers or our growth. We are members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ, empowered and sent forth by the Lord Himself to find, nourish, and bring safely into His Church those who are seeking to know the truth."

Thomas S. Monson points out that it is a combined effort: "No mission will rise to its greatest potential unless the members and the missionaries work cooperatively together. Missionary problems almost vanish when every missionary is successful."

M. Russell Ballard at the Mission Presidents' Seminar in 1990 talked about breaking down barriers between missionaries and members: "What would happen if we could actually understand that every member is a missionary and every missionary is a member? The concept in the minds of everyone is that the missionaries teach, and after they baptize converts, we, the members take over. [When this concept is followed, a wall has been built between members and missionaries that hinder the work.] This wall must be removed.

The way we retain converts and have real growth is to have no walls--to have stake missionaries and full-time missionaries working as one. The combination of stake and full-time missionaries bringing sheaves into the garner together is the picture we must have locked in our minds. After all, the temple is the great garner.
We prepare the converts for the great day when we can stand together with them in the kingdom of our Father and rejoice in their salvation."

Erich W. Kopischke stressed that members and missionaries should unite in their efforts: "Missionaries and members must speak one language. We must become one in our efforts to proclaim the gospel. It will better enable us to become tools in the hand of the Lord, for He said, “And even so will I gather mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, even as many as will believe in me, and hearken unto my voice” (D&C 33:6)."

H. Bryan Richards, a former member of the Seventy shared an experience of how missionaries and members overcame contention among themselves: ". . . some time ago when I was serving as a mission president, there was considerable contention among priesthood leaders, members, and missionaries in one area of the mission. Harsh words were spoken, unity in the work vanished, and keys to Church buildings were withheld from missionaries. The situation became so intense that the Spirit of the Lord had withdrawn, and the work was at a standstill.

I met with the zone leader in this area to discuss what needed to be done to resolve the situation. We made it a matter of fasting and prayer. A few days later the zone leader called me. “I was reading about Ammon and his experience with King Lamoni,” he said. “Ammon asked one very significant question of King Lamoni, and I believe that question will resolve our situation.” The question: “What wilt thou that I should do for thee, O king?” (Alma 18:14).

The zone leader began encouraging the missionaries in his zone to ask the members and priesthood leaders, “What can we do for you?” As the days went by, it was amazing how quickly the contention began to ease, how the Spirit of the Lord returned to the work, and how the love and unity between members and missionaries increased. The work began to prosper again, and miracles happened because the zone leader chose to help the missionaries turn the other cheek and put others’ needs before their own.

Long after the zone leader left that area, the missionaries continued asking that same question, and the work continued to flourish as never before."

Jay E. Jenson gave a way to overcome contention for mission presidents that can also apply to missionaries: While presiding over a South American mission, I traveled to a distant city to interview missionaries, hold a zone conference, and conduct a district conference. I discovered among the missionaries some problems. In the district conference, other serious problems dealing with members and leaders surfaced. In my mind the negative outweighed the positive with both missionaries and members, leaving me frustrated and disappointed. After four days of interviews and meetings, I boarded the airplane with a heavy heart to return home.

I often read scriptures while traveling, and I turned to them for comfort and direction. I read a few of my favorite passages. While turning the pages, I stopped at the third section of the Doctrine and Covenants. I was deeply touched by the first five verses as they applied to my concerns.

When I read a verse, I often insert my name in it. I did so with verse 5 and found the help I needed to remove my gloomy feelings: “Behold, you, Jay Jensen, have been entrusted with these things, but how strict were your commandments; and remember also the promises which were made to you, Jay Jensen …”

The words “remember also the promises” struck me with unusual power. I identified with the Prophet Joseph Smith when he read James 1:5. The words “remember also the promises” seemed to “enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on [them] again and again.” (JS—H 1:12.) During those four days I had focused on nothing but problems. I had not stopped to consider one single promise.

I had with me on the airplane that day a copy of my patriarchal blessing. I read it, noting several marvelous promises. I reviewed in my mind the promises given to me when I was set apart as a mission president. I turned to additional scriptures and pondered the promises in each one. I learned then and have had reinforced to me again and again that when we search the scriptures, we will come to know that “they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled.” (D&C 1:37.)"

To members M. Russell Ballard promises if they will help missionaries: "Some members say, “I’m afraid to share the gospel because I might offend someone.” Experience has shown that people are not offended when the sharing is motivated by the spirit of love and concern. How could anyone be offended when we say something like this: “I love the way my church helps me” and then add whatever the Spirit directs. It’s when we appear only to be fulfilling an assignment and we fail to express real interest and love that we offend others. Don’t ever forget, brothers and sisters, that you and I have in our possession the very points of doctrine that will bring people to the Lord. The restored gospel of Jesus Christ has within it the power to bring deep and abiding happiness to the human soul—something that will be valued and cherished for the rest of time and for all eternity. We are not just trying to get people to join our Church; we are sharing with them the fulness of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. But as powerful as our message is, it cannot be imposed or forced upon people. It can only be shared—heart to heart, soul to soul, spirit to spirit—by being good neighbors and by caring and showing love. We need to be watchful for one another and reach out to one another. And as we do so, we will radiate the gospel in our own lives, and it will radiate to the people the blessings the gospel has to offer.

Let us follow the admonition of the Prophet Joseph Smith, “After all that has been said, [our] greatest and most important duty is to preach the Gospel” (History of the Church, 2:478).

We can and we must do better, brothers and sisters. I pray that the Lord will grant to each one of us the faith and courage to increase our participation in supporting our full-time missionaries in sharing the restored gospel with all of God’s children throughout the world."

We need missionaries to be patient and kind when dealing with members. Follow up immediately after they have shared friends. Keep them involved by communicating the progress of their friends. Open communication breaks down contention. Listen and take members' suggestions when working with those they have referred. They know their friends and family members better than you do since they have a relationship with them. Don't pressure people into the gospel and act as those the member's advice is not valid. If you are going to do something different than what a member suggests make sure the member knows what you are doing. Don't let them hear it from their friends that you are not respecting the investigator's or refer's feelings. Remember that a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still. So make sure you overcome objections in a caring way so that people can truly make commitments that lead to change culminating in baptism and members in the church.

Let us remember the words of our Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley who encourages us to do more in bringing our friends into the Church: "Last year there were approximately 300,000 convert baptisms throughout the Church. This is tremendously significant. This is the equivalent of 120 new stakes of 2,500 members each. Think of that: 120 new stakes in a single year! It is wonderful. But it is not enough. I am not being unrealistic when I say that with concerted effort, with recognition of the duty which falls upon each of us as members of the Church, and with sincere prayer to the Lord for help, we could double that number. The big initial task is first to find interested investigators. So many of us look upon missionary work as simply tracting. Everyone who is familiar with this work knows there is a better way. That way is through the members of the Church. Whenever there is a member who introduces an investigator, there is an immediate support system. The member bears testimony of the truth of the work. He is anxious for the happiness of his investigator friend. He becomes excited as that friend makes progress in learning the gospel.

The full-time missionaries may do the actual teaching, but the member, wherever possible, will back up that teaching with the offering of his home to carry on this missionary service. He will bear sincere testimony of the divinity of the work. He will be there to answer questions when the missionaries are not around. He will be a friend to the convert who is making a big and often difficult change.

The gospel is nothing to be ashamed of. It is something to be proud of. “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord,” wrote Paul to Timothy (2 Tim. 1:8). Opportunities for sharing the gospel are everywhere."

Missionaries need to take advantage of ward correlation meetings. By working closely with the ward mission leader, the auxiliary groups and the bishop they can gain allies to help them forge relationships with ward members. Increased member involvement in the missionary process allows new members to have a support system in their new wards. Missionaries cannot succeed without the help of the members. Contention is mostly due to differing opinions on how to handle the teaching of the member's family and friends. Missionaries need to keep members engaged in the process to overcome communication problems. Missionaries need to remember members are not going to keep giving them referrals if they don't respect the member's suggestion on how to approach and teach their friends. If missionaries truly want to work to go forward they need to stay close to the Spirit and be open to members expectations and suggestions.

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